February 25, 2019

Crisis: On Venezuela (I & II), Pharmaceutical Corporations, "Realists", Plastic & Health

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 25, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Monday, February 25, 2019.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

. Selections from February 25, 2019:
1. Regime Change We Can Believe In
2. It’s Time for Pharmaceutical Companies to Have Their Tobacco Moment

3. A Call to Halt an Illegal Invasion of Venezuela

4. "Realists" Are Courting Global Devastation

5. Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Regime Change We Can Believe In

This article is by Jeremy Scahill on The Intercept. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

The Trump administration has set a deadline of February 23 for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to bow down to the U.S. This week on Intercepted: U.S. military aircraft have landed in Colombia under the pretext of delivering humanitarian aid, as Trump vows to overthrow the government in Caracas. Venezuela scholar George Ciccariello-Maher and journalist Kim Ives discuss recent developments and examine the massive protests rocking Haiti’s U.S.-backed president. The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz details the bloody and murderous career of Elliott Abrams, the man now in charge of U.S.-Venezuela operations. And journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous explains the failed revolution in Egypt and outlines U.S.-backed dictator Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s plot to make himself president for life.

In fact, this is the summary of the whole article, which is too long to properly excerpt in Nederlog. And I will only excerpt a few parts on Venezuela and leave it to my readers to take an interest in the rest.

Here is more on Venezuela:

The issue here is that the U.S. is not actually attempting to aid the Venezuelan people. They are using their suffering as a prop in a campaign to overthrow the Maduro government. Also, the U.S.-declared value of its so-called aid: It’s not even equal to a couple of days worth of losses in oil revenue that the U.S. sanctions have caused Venezuela. This is a cynical ploy to starve and harass Venezuelans into rising up against Maduro and this offering of crumbs to Venezuela, it’s a psychological operation. It’s a political maneuver. If the U.S. really wanted to aid the Venezuelan people, they would lift the sanctions, they would coordinate with international aid agencies and the UN and the Maduro government to deliver goods. This isn’t about humanitarian aid. This is a provocation aimed at bolstering the coup government of Juan Guaidó. And Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are lying about the actual intent of this so-called aid. The United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, both of them have said this isn’t actually humanitarian aid because it’s being politicized.

I think all of the above is correct. I also have my own doubts about both Maduro and Chavez, neither of whom I like(d), but then again I am also pretty certain that if Maduro gets defeated, the new government will again be by the Venezuelan rich and will be helping the rich in the USA. There is a bit more below on Maduro.

Here is more on coups as engineered by the USA:

JS: You see, this is a classic U.S. model that’s being applied right now to Venezuela. You interfere, destabilize, sanction, smear a country and its government. You unleash weapons of economic destruction. You deprive people of basic goods and dignity and then you overtly pretend that you had nothing to do with it. This was all the socialists who did this. You blame the government for the destruction. You demand that people rise up against their government. You demand they accept whatever puppet the U.S. wants installed or else the misery and suffering will continue.

Yes, I think this is also basically correct, and if you want more information you should check out what the USA did to Iraq (and its riches).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article (still from the beginning):

JS: I’ve said this numerous times, and I will say it again, there are very serious, legitimate grievances against the Maduro government in Venezuela. The U.S. interference is not the only story here and it’s not the sole reason that Venezuela is facing the incredible tumult, the incredible suffering that it is. Hugo Chávez played a role in this. Maduro continues to play a role in it. People in Venezuela should have their right to choose their leaders respected without any outside interference — for Maduro or against him. But there is, in my view, no defensible case whatsoever that can be made that the United States government or the Trump administration should be the decider for the people of Venezuela. None. The media coverage of this crisis has been absolutely abominable. It’s been one-sided. It’s been lazy. And, at times, it has supported yet another disastrous path toward overthrowing a government that poses absolutely no threat to the people of the United States whatsoever.

Yes, I think that is also mostly correct. Also, I admit that I neither like Maduro nor did I like Chavez, mostly because they seemed to act often as leftist strongmen. Then again, I also admit this is South-America, while I think that especially Chavez did help the Venezuelan poor (which is something no Venezuelan rich will do once they get the power).

Anyway... There's a whole lot more in the article, which is strongly recommended, and there is also more on Venezuela below.

2. It’s Time for Pharmaceutical Companies to Have Their Tobacco Moment

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Twenty-five years ago, Congress hauled before it the top executives of the nation’s seven largest tobacco companies and forced them to make a number of long-overdue admissions about cigarettes — including that they might cause cancer and heart disease and that the executives had suppressed evidence of their addictive potential. In one dramatic exchange, when pressed by Representatives Henry Waxman and Ron Wyden, the executives denied that their products were addictive but admitted that they would not want their own children to use them.

The hearing ushered in a public health victory for the ages. In its wake, lawmakers and health officials enacted measures that would ultimately bring smoking rates in the United States to an all-time low.

With seven pharmaceutical executives set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, one can only hope for a similarly pivotal moment for prescription drug prices. Like their predecessors in the tobacco industry, the drug makers will testify at a time of near-universal anger over industry antics.

Drug prices are soaring in a way that defies reason. A vial of insulin that cost less than $200 a decade ago now sells for closer to $1,500. Actimmune, a drug that treats malignant osteoporosis and sells for less than $350 for a one-month supply in Britain, costs $26,000 for a one-month supply in the United States. And the prices of many drugs — that treat cancers, high blood pressure, allergies and more — have risen so much that average consumers are rationing them, at grave peril. Not even experts seem to know how those prices are set or why they keep rising.

Yes, this is mostly quite correct, but I deny the last statement:

The prices are very often set dishonestly, with the help of medics who earn many millions a year precisely because they were and are bought by the pharmaceutical corporations, and the prices keep rising because for the pharmaceutical corporations profits (which are enormous) are far more important than helping people (completely in line with Milton Friedman's thesis that the only norm any corporation has to satisfy is to maximize their profits).

Here is some more:

Mr. Trump has not kept his campaign promise to “negotiate like crazy” with drug makers to lower the cost of their products, and his statement last May that the industry would soon announce “voluntary, massive” price cuts came to naught. But his bluster on the issue, along with his blueprint for resolving it, have at least helped to keep a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry and its questionable practices.

Well... possibly Trump's bluster and lies may have "helped to keep a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry and its questionable practices" but in my case (and I have "a serious and chronic disease" since more than 40 years, which was denied to exist by almost all Dutch medics for forty years) I learned a whole lot more about the pharmaceutical corporations and the decline of medicine by reading other articles than those published by The New York Times.

Anyway. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is a list of questions The New York Times' Editorial Board believes should be asked by politicians on February 26. I list only the questions, and suppress their associated texts:
If the members of the Senate Finance Committee want to make use of that spotlight, here’s what to ask executives on Tuesday:

How do you determine list prices for drugs? (..)

What’s a fair profit margin for lifesaving products? (..)

How much do you spend on research and development, and where do those dollars go? (..)

Why would any drug need nearly 250 patents? (..)

What will you change? (..)

Yes, although I expect that the pharmaceutical corporations will have plenty of well-trained liars ready to "answer" them, for which reason another question I think should be asked is: How much do you earn a year? And this is a recommended article.

3. A Call to Halt an Illegal Invasion of Venezuela

This article is by Kevin Tillman (the brother of Pat Tillman) on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

It seems like every time I pick up a newspaper or go online, our country is starting another war. As a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I am consumed by the situation in Venezuela, which is becoming more and more concerning.

I’m not a war correspondent, and I don’t have a Ph.D. in political science. But I have seen these conflicts firsthand, and I have felt the effects. Like many in this country, I have lost family members and friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t want anyone else to have to experience that. Unfortunately, the inertia over regime change in Venezuela bears a striking resemblance to what happened in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As one of the soldiers who illegally invaded Iraq, this scares me.

I think this is quite fair and honest, and indeed I selected it because this is by one of the Tillman brothers.

Here is some more:

As was the case in Iraq, there are no legal or moral grounds to intervene in the affairs of Venezuela and no international laws to support such an intervention. There is nothing in the Constitution that sanctions meddling in the elections of a foreign country, and nothing in the Venezuelan constitution that legitimizes self-appointed presidents. Venezuela is not a threat. Venezuela is not firing missiles at the United States, attacking our allies or invading the U.S. with troops.

Sadly, the propaganda spewing from the mouths of American politicians and pundits is as predictable as it is hollow: “Venezuela is socialist.” “Their economy is in shambles.” “Their government is corrupt.” “There is food instability.” “There is a humanitarian crisis.”

I completely agree with this, and also observe that if the following excuses are good excuses to start an international war, and I refer to “Venezuela is socialist.” “Their economy is in shambles.” “Their government is corrupt.” “There is food instability.” then any excuse whatsoever is good enough to start an international war, including the valid excuse "The leaders of our big American oil corporations want the Venezuelan oil, and are quite willing to use any lie to further their interests."

Here is some more:

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Maduro, any more than I endorsed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (nor am I comparing the two). This is about our leaders thinking they have the right to interfere in the affairs of any country they choose. Not only is regime change illegal and morally wrong, it has proved to be disastrous.

Yes, I agree with this. Here is more:

Why this coup is taking place is transparent. Some of our government officials are actually telling us. Our leaders, yet again, feel entitled to another country’s resources. As was the case in Iraq, Venezuela’s oil reserves are not controlled by U.S. corporations or a pliant government. They are owned by the people of Venezuela. It is theirs and nobody else’s. This means the oil cannot be looted by Western corporations or controlled for political purposes by outside forces.

Unless, of course, a coup takes place and the oil is taken by force. That is what it appears our leaders are going to do. In all fairness to members of the Trump administration, this belligerence toward Venezuela did not start with them. It is merely an extension of previous administrations’ policies.

Yes indeed, and this is the same reason I gave above. Here is the ending of this article:
No country should have to suffer this fate. No soldier should have to participate in such an operation. No nation should ever do such a thing. And no democracy should allow its leaders to commit such crimes in our name.

I beg our elected representatives and anyone with authority inside our government to halt this strategy of aggression and put an end to what threatens to become a new cycle of violence.

I quite agree and I also liked this article because it is well-written and clear, for which reasons it is strongly recommended.

4. "Realists" Are Courting Global Devastation

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In a recent confrontation with representatives of the Sunrise Movement, Senator Diane Feinstein referred to herself as a “realist” when challenged to support the Green New Deal.

She’s not alone.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to the GND as a dream, and nearly every article about it alludes to it being unrealistic, while the pundits pile on with charges of political doom for the Dems if they support it.

Ponder this for a moment.  We are faced with a planet wrecking problem – something that, if left unchecked, could literally lead to the deaths of billions of people, the extinction of nearly half of all species, and the destruction of the ecological systems which allowed for the development of civilization – and the people who want to do something about it are labelled unrealistic, and those who advocate ineffective half-measures are considered “realists.”

This tells us a great deal about the state of our politics, and none of it is good.

For starters, it tells us that our entire political process has been overtaken by monied interests.  The Constitution and its principles have been discarded in exchange for campaign funds and a revolving door that allows politicians to cash in on public service.

Well... I more or less agree but I also have some critical remarks:

First, I strongly dislike Feinstein and Pelosi, mostly because they very often lie or mislead, and because they seem to me more like representatives of the Wall Street bankers than representatives of the American people.

Second, I think virtually all powerful persons (and Feinstein and Pelosi are powerful) and virtually all speakers for any government will present their own positions (no matter how cruel, insane, uninformed or insensitive) as "realist".

And third, while I agree that "
The Constitution and its principles have been discarded in exchange for campaign funds and a revolving door that allows politicians to cash in on public service" I do not think that this fact has much to do with the fact that those who did it insist they are realists.

Here is some more:
Not only is leadership a rare phenomenon, but when leaders do appear, they are assaulted by a collective, reactionary ignorance.  Exhibit A has to be Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run, in which the DNC, the press, big money and the punditry gathered against him in a confederacy of dunces.  It’s happening again, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives, who the folks in the know are dismissing.  It’s happening with the GND, with proposals to tax the ultra-wealthy, with no-brainer issues like Medicare for All.
I agree that "leadership a rare phenomenon" but not all effective leaders are any good as politicians. I more or less agree with the rest (but remain unhappy with most abbreviations like "GND" for "Green New Deal": it takes me more time to decipher "GND" than to read "Green New Deal", for one reason).

Also, as a side-remark, the progressives and liberals are in the minority, and minorities tend to be misrepresented.

Anyway. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

[T]oday, the “realists” have a firm grip on our social, political and economic system, and they are doing a tremendous job at keeping us from seeing reality. The stakes of their failures have never been higher, the consequences never more dire.  It is time for another hero to appear, and it must be us.  We the people must rise up and demand more from our leaders than a faux realism rooted in greed, fear and myopia.

I more or less agree with the last statement, but less with the rest:

Firstly, as I explained, nearly everyone in a position of power will present his or her positions as "realistic", indeed also if they are complete fabrications.

Second, it seems to me especially the mainstream (aka corporatist) media that lie and that spread the lies of leading politicians without any or much criticism.

And thirdly "we the people" cannot be a hero (except extremely briefly or because of propaganda by leaders), and the reason seems to be mostly human psychology, that is quite ready to revere individuals, but very much less likely to revere groups (other than groups they are part of).

But this is a recommended article.

5. Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

This article is by Jerri-Lynn Scofield on Naked Capitalism. It starts as follows:

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) last week released a report, Plastic & Health; The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet.

Its conclusion: “Plastic is a Global Health Crisis Hiding in Plain Sight.”

Lifecycle Approach

The principal contribution of the report: it takes a comprehensive look at the health impacts of plastic throughout its life cycle. This begins with  the extraction and transport of fossil feedstocks for plastic, continues onto refining and production of plastic, creating consumer products and packaging, fostering toxic releases from plastic waste management. Waste disposal isn’t the final stage either, as afterwards, there’s the fragmentation and creation of microplastics to consider, as well as cascading exposures as plastic degrades, and finally, ongoing and continuing environmental exposures over the hundreds of years plastic remains before it disintegrates completely..

This report breaks new ground, as thus far, there’s been little systematic attention to the collective problems created by the ubiquitous and increasing use of plastic throughout its lifecycle (..)

Yes, I completely agree. Here is one more bit:

I encourage readers to take a brief look at the entire report, which only runs to 75 pp. I warn you, however, that it’s deeply depressing.

Again I completely agree and, since I did download the report, I can add that it is decently written and well illustrated, and yes, it is also "deeply depressing".

Here is some more (and these are just a few examples):

Microplastics contaminate the water we drink, the food we eat, even the salt we use to season our meals: (..)

Tap water is contaminated by micro plastics across the globe, according to a recent study by Orb Media cited in the CIEL report: (..)

Not only is bottled water contaminated with microplastics, but samples also included polypropylene, nylon, and PET – leading the Orb Media authors to suggest that packaging might be the source for some contamination.

Yes indeed, and incidentally: Bottled water, which is much more expensive than tap water, is also more contamininated than tap water.

There is rather a lot more, and here is the ending of the article:

I can’t offer much by way of a happy prognosis. This is not to fault the achievement of the report’s authors in organising and summarizing material defining and outlining the problem. Perhaps it’s too ambitious to expect more by way of solutions.  

What can consumers do? Alas, the best answer I can come up with is to practice the four Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair (see Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and…Repair).  My recommendation will provide scant comfort to those readers who have or will look at the report, as they are inadequate to confronting this pending global health catastrophe created by indiscriminate use of plastics.

I completely agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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